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Volume 34
Issue 28
 
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the Music Lounge by Albert Rodriguez - SGN A & E Writer
Ganging up on a really cool band: Ryan Miller, lead vocalist and guitarist of Guster, releases his inner music geek to Seattle Gay News
Hours after Gay boys and girls strutted their pride in downtown Seattle, the party took a serious hop to Seattle Center and then bounced up to Capitol Hill. Back in Queen Anne, music-happy people were tapping their toes at a different kind of gathering. It was just as festive, with Guster appearing as grand marshals of a well-attended, in-store performance at Easy Street Records. Post-mini concert, the alternative pop quartet joyously signed dozens of autographs for exuberant fans. Then, I handed each band member a set of shiny, colorful Pride beads to make Guster feel included in our annual Gay-la, and they gladly wrapped them around their necks. Except for lead singer and guitarist Ryan Miller, who clutched his tightly like rosary beads.

Miller was thirsty and my caffeine tank was on empty, so he and I skipped to Café Ladro, ordered cold beverages and sat outside to talk. Cars whizzed by us and a merciless sun began caramelizing our faces. Our conversation focused heavily on music, a subject I can talk about even in my sleep. Miller is an intellectually, open-minded, passionate and laid back guy. He has a calm, friendly personality that allows you to feel immediately comfortable around him. Guster released a sensational CD in June, their major label debut, entitled Ganging Up on the Sun. The foursome performs at the Paramount Theatre on October 5. Enjoying his first full day in Seattle, which he looked forward to getting the most of by exploring the city on foot, Miller released his inner music geek to Seattle Gay News on Gay Pride weekend. And we love him dearly for it.

Here's what Ryan Miller of Guster had to say when he stepped inside "The Music Lounge".



Albert Rodriguez: Congrats on an awesome, new CD!

Ryan Miller: Thanks!

Rodriguez: The first single is "Lightening Rod", right?

Miller: No, it's "One Man Wrecking Machine". Is that going to throw off your line of questioning? (He says jokingly)

Rodriguez: No, it's just a personal favorite.

Miller: I really like that one too.

Rodriguez: "Satellite" is another favorite.

Miller: That one will be a single at some point.

Rodriguez: I hope so. "The New Underground" is another great song.

Miller: That one feels like it can be on the radio too. Our record companies have never gone three singles deep with us, so we'll have to see how everything plays out.

Rodriguez: Is there pressure in the recording studio to come up with that one single the record label is waiting for?

Miller: Yeah, a little bit. This and our last record, Keep it Together, followed a similar process. We wrote the record, turned it in and then everybody was like, "Well, maybe you should keep writing". With Keep It Together, we were really pissed about it, but we came up with some great songs, so everything worked out. This time, we agreed that we had a lot of momentum and spent it on a few extra months writing.

Rodriguez: I read a review stating that Ganging Up on the Sun is the group's most confident album. Do you agree?

Miller: For sure. On our first two records, we didn't really have good producers and we didn't know how to capture our thing because we were two guitarists and a percussionist. We didn't know how to make it happen. Our third record was with Steve Lillywhite, and he came to the table with a lot of experience and gave us a lot of confidence. That was sort of the end of the instrumental guitar-mad percussionist era, and Keep it Together kind of threw our sound out the window. Coming into this record, we were playing great together as a band, communicating well, and writing great songs. We had a much clearer picture of what kind of record we wanted.

Rodriguez: Were you guys skeptical about signing with a big label?

Miller: We signed after we made our second record. I don't think we were skeptical yet. We had sold a ton of records on our own. I think we sold over fifty thousand copies of our first record just out of our guitar cases. I think all the skepticism came in later.

Rodriguez: You guys seem like "good boys", not boozehound rock stars.

Miller: (laughing slightly) I think we were probably closer to that stereotype when we first started. Now we're all pretty normal. We're all upper-middle class kids and I think we've had different moments of being really indulgent in the whole thing. But I don't think we could indulge in that sort of stereotypical lifestyle and still be in a band together for ten years, without somebody strangling somebody else. We try not to take ourselves too seriously. This is how we all pay our mortgages and support our families.

Rodriguez: What's currently spinning in your iPOD?

Miller: I just got the new M. Ward. It's really good. And I read about this band, a woman singer-songwriter from Sweden named El Perro Del Mar. It's really simple pop songs, but really interesting production, kind of Motowny. I listen to a lot of old stuff too, like The Band. And I was listening to Harry Nilsson the other day, and Owl & the Pussycat. I'm super into new music, bands like Wolf Parade and Sunset Rubdown, but I always like going back to the roots. I'm going deeper into the Harry Nilsson catalogue and The Band, and I'm super into The Kinks.

Rodriguez: I recommend the new Neko Case.

Miller: I actually really, really liked the last Neko Case. Blacklisted, I think. I spent a ton of time with that record. I like that more than New Pornographers.

Rodriguez: I'm not a New Pornographers fan.

Miller: There's a bunch of bands I feel I should be into, but I can never make it happen. Gomez is one of those. New Pornographers is another. But Neko Case was pretty instant with me.

Rodriguez: I have friends who are totally into Belle and Sebastian, but I'm not.

Miller: I'm a huge Belle and Sebastian fan! We covered a Belle and Sebastian song a couple of tours ago. They're a great band.

Rodriguez: What expectations do you guys have for the new album?

Miller: The thing we're really hungry for, more than anything, is to make a great, classic pop record. And we feel like we want a little more respect, not critical respect. Like KEXP, I listen to it, it's all the music I like and they don't play us at all because we're kind of un-cool, or whatever. That's the kind of music we listen to and those are the bands we're inspired by, but it's not always the bands we're lumped together with. There's more pressure we put on ourselves to make a great, consistent record that's going to stand out over a period of time than there is to have a hit. The pressure is to live up to our own expectations of what a great record should be.

Rodriguez: This album will hopefully gain you more fans.

Miller: Our first producer told us, "The good thing about you guys is you write pop songs". And pop never goes out of style. We're not a grunge band, we've never been an emo band. We're a pop band, so that's good for us in a lot of ways.

Rodriguez: Pop will never go out of style, but it will change.

Miller: Right. The Kinks' The Village Green Reservation Society is an amazing pop record. That record is never going to sound dated to me. I would love to make a record like that someday. That's what we're aiming for.

Rodriguez: I'll never put away my James Taylor or Fleetwood Mac albums.

Miller: Exactly. That's why the influences on this record are much more like The Beatles, Fleetwood Mac, The Band and The Kinks. Those are the influences that really mean a lot to us. Those are the bands that sort of transcended all this stuff. Those are the bands we want to be.

Rodriguez: I just saw Beck in concert a month ago. I've seen him several times before. When he first started out, he was a thin, pasty, nerdy, hippy kid who was wildly spontaneous onstage. Now, he's a grown man and a father. He's just as creative artistically, but not as crazy onstage as he once was. His energy has shifted. I'm sure Guster's earliest fans have noticed changes in you guys over the years.

Miller: For sure. Some people are willing to hang with us through that change. We know with every record we lose some people and gain more. We always take a step backward and two steps forward in regards to our fan base. Some people's attraction to our band was the organic, acoustic guitar and percussion sound. But we're getting further and further away from that. Meanwhile, we're writing better songs. So we lose people who think our first record was our best. Fans have certain expectations, especially for a band like us that is so grass roots and open to the whole thing. We make documentaries of our band and write journal entries. We don't create a wall between ourselves and our audience.

Rodriguez: You're definitely a fan-friendly band. I hate it when artists get to a certain level where they become unapproachable.

Miller: For some bands it works. For The Strokes it works, and for Radiohead, maybe even for Beck. There are some bands you want to be friends with and some bands you don't, but you still respect the shit out of them anyway. For us, we're just not those kinds of people in real life.

Rodriguez: So what are you going to do tonight?

Miller: Not sure. I might go see a movie. I might sit in my hotel room.

Rodriguez: Whatever you do, enjoy your time in Seattle. We look forward to seeing Guster return here this fall.

Miller: Thanks! I can walk to my hotel from here, right?
 

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